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795 million people experience hunger every day. Hunger exists in the U.S. just as it does overseas.
In developing countries, hunger is related to poverty and to under-developed agriculture. Where there is bad health, weather changes, and natural disasters, hunger can also be found. Hunger results from war and displacement, unstable or unavailable markets, and from waste.
In the U.S., where there is poverty, hunger is often there also. Hidden hunger is a term used to describe what happens when vitamins and minerals are not part of the diet.
In the last few decades, the world as a whole, and developing countries in particular, have seen steady but slow progress against hunger. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the percentage of the world’s population that is undernourished has decreased from 23.4 percent in 1990-92 to 13.5 percent in 2012-14. That progress, however, is uneven across regions.
For developed countries, hunger doesn’t come from not having enough food available. There is enough food for everyone. The overwhelming cause of hunger in these countries is poverty.
Nearly 15 percent of U.S. households — approximately 49 million Americans, including 15.9 million children — struggle to put food on the table. Here the measure of hunger is “food insecurity” — an ongoing uncertainty of where the next meal will come from.
Churches and charities do a lot to address the immediate needs from hunger in direct ways. But the federal government also has many safety-net programs to address food insecurity, including SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and the National School Lunch Program. These government programs provide many times more hunger-related assistance than private charities.
Even with more than one in five U.S. children at risk of hunger (one in three among African-American and Latino children), funding for these critical anti-hunger programs is being challenged.
Asia is the most populous region in the world. In recent decades, as its economies have grown quickly, poverty has declined and food production has increased. The number of hungry people in Asia has also declined substantially, by 217 million between 1990-92 and 2012-14, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Yet Asia still has to two-thirds of the world’s hungry people.
In South Asia, there has been very slow progress against hunger. The population affected by hunger fell from 24 percent in 1990 to 16 percent in 2012-14. More than 40 percent of children in India are stunted (being too short for their age group) due to malnutrition, according to the Population Reference Bureau. The global food price and economic crises of 2007-2008 caused a spike in hunger in the region.
Just over a quarter of the world’s undernourished people live in the countries south of the Sahara Desert in Africa. Progress against hunger has been slow in this region. In 1990, one in three people in the region were undernourished. Today, one in four suffer from hunger, according to the Population Reference Bureau. War and chronic diseases (HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria) have slowed progress.
Most hungry and poor people in sub-Saharan Africa still live in rural areas and depend on the land for their livelihoods. Decades of underinvestment in agriculture has hampered their productivity. More frequent droughts and other weather shocks also hurt farmers’ ability to produce enough food.
Many countries in this region have high economic growth rates, but they still lack strong systems, such as administrative, legal, education, and health systems. They also lack roads, electricity, and irrigation. These conditions make it more difficult for countries, communities, and individuals to withstand and recover from shocks, such as a disease outbreaks or droughts.
A devastating earthquake in 2010 affected one-third of Haiti’s entire population and required large amounts of food aid and other assistance. Haiti’s economy and its ability to produce food has not fully recovered. This is one example of extreme hunger due to disasters, which the region is prone to.
At the other end of the spectrum from Haiti’s acute hunger that occurred as a result of a specific event is the type of hunger seen in Central America, specifically in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Hunger in these countries has been building steadily over the past several years and is coupled with extreme poverty and violence. These problems reached a climax in the summer of 2014 when they forced tens of thousands of children to flee their countries and enter illegally into the U.S.
Another group experiencing high levels of hunger in this region is an estimated 50 million people who live across Mexico and Central America. They experience hunger up to eight times higher than the general population in the countries where they live. Stunting (when children do not grow properly) rates in these indigenous communities are among the highest in the world. This is the result of malnutrition at a very young age. Children who are stunted are less likely to do well in school. They earn less and are more likely have poor health as adults.
This region generally does not experience hunger on a large scale. However, the 2007-2008 food price crisis, political instability, and years of war have led to an increase in hunger in the region. Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq are called fragile states because long-term war and conflict have devastated systems and communities. There are millions who are experiencing hunger.
In Syria alone, civil war has destroyed nearly every farm. This has led to a total dependency on international food aid from donor countries like the U.S. Four million people there are being given food assistance each month — more than the population of Los Angeles. The world has not seen this kind of humanitarian crisis and resulting hunger since the 2009-2010 crisis in the Horn of Africa.
Churches and charities do a lot to address the immediate needs from hunger in direct ways. But the federal government also has many safety-net programs to address food insecurity. One in 20 bags of food assistance comes from a charitable organization. Federal nutrition programs provide the rest.
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